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Jotaka L. Eaddy Headshot

Voting Rights Act, Full Circle

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Modern day voter suppression tactics have created an environment where citizens are again faced with monumental barriers and obstacles to participate in the election process. Whether it is a 102-year-old woman who waited out long lines to vote, a 91-year-old World War II veteran who was nearly purged from the rolls, or one of the countless college students or hard-working citizens, Americans across the nation are fighting for their rights.

Not even 50 years ago, heroes and leaders like Medgar Evers and Harry T. and Harriette Moore sacrificed their lives to acquire the right to vote for all Americans. Countless others protested and, thanks to their sacrifice, these advocates and martyrs helped secure the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which helped deter discrimination at the ballot box.

Desiline Victor, who we will remember as the 102-year-old woman who waited hours to vote, is a hero. But after the Reconstruction Amendments and reinforcement of the Voting Rights Act, it should not have to be a heroic act to cast a ballot and participate in what is now supposed to be the world's greatest democracy.

This week, the United States Supreme Court heard one of the most important cases in voting rights history, possibly limiting the protections of the Voting Rights Act. The case, Shelby County v. Holder, could determine whether the Department of Justice will be able to stop harmful election law changes that stand to disenfranchise millions of voters from taking hold in states across the country.

Under review is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which serves as the only defense against discriminatory voting laws before they take place. This portion of the law covers several states and jurisdictions with an egregious history of racially-charged voter suppression. This past election year alone, Section 5 was used to block discriminatory laws across Texas, South Carolina and Florida.

Yet, misguided politicians are seeking to revoke this vital piece of the Voting Rights Act, a piece that received bipartisan reauthorization only seven years ago. They argue that there is no longer racial discrimination in voting and therefore the law no longer applies. They make this argument despite the fact that some of their peers have, unwittingly or not, publically acknowledged discriminatory intent -- from Pennsylvania House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai, to a widely cited GOP consultant out of Florida who admitted that Republicans targeted Sunday "because that's a big day when the black churches organize themselves."

If history is indeed repeating itself, we must act again -- first by defending the Voting Rights Act and then by expanding voting rights through state legislatures. Summoning the strength of our civil rights predecessors, we can restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, extend early voting, and introduce same day registration opportunities in dozens of states this year.

While voter suppression has come full circle, our efforts must do the same. One-hundred years from now we hope that all citizens are guaranteed unfettered access to the ballot and full participation in our democracy, but until then these protections must remain. Voting is the foundation of our democracy and we have been called to fight for it again.